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Money Matters: How Much Do I Give?
December 13, 2011
Yesterday I wrote about Christians and money and tried to give an answer to 2 questions: Do I have to give some of my money away? and What should my attitude be as I give my money away? You can find that article here. Today I want to continue this little 2-part series by asking and answering 2 more questions: Where am I to give? and How much am I to give?
Where Am I to Give?
If what I said yesterday is correct, then we have established that we have to give some of our money away. This leads to the question of where we are to give that money. We have a near-endless number of great options available to us—we can give to the church, to individuals, to parachurch organizations or to charities and non-profits. If you have money to give, you will never have trouble finding worthy causes eager and willing to accept it. But what does the Bible say?
I find that question more difficult to answer than I might have thought. The New Testament presupposition seems to be that your primary form of giving is to the local church. At least, this is what appears to be modeled, even if it is not explicitly stated. Certainly this was the Old Testament pattern; the tithe was not given to individuals, but was given to the Lord through his appointed people.
What I find in the New Testament is that our responsibility for caring for others, whether that is in sharing the gospel or in sharing our wealth, begins closest to us and then moves out from there. A man is considered worse than an unbeliever if he does not care for his own family, not if he does not care for a family on the other side of the planet. After that, his responsibility is to his own local church—the brothers and sisters in Christ with whom he has covenanted. This is very practical; it would not make a lot of sense for him to assume primary care for a family in Asia while his primary care comes from someone in Australia.
So first we need to care for family, then church, and after that it goes out to other Christians. The New Testament seems to place a higher priority on caring for other believers than caring for unbelievers. Both may be important, but we are to care for other Christians before we care for non-Christians. And then of course there are times in which we can and ought to care for everyone, as a way to tend to needs and as a way to open up doors for the gospel.
This is what we see modeled in the New Testament. After caring for their own families, people were giving through the church. While there is no doubt that Christians were at times giving directly to other Christians, the early church model is to give to the church so the church can distribute to those in need. We see this in the stories of Barnabas and Ananias and Saphira, those people who brought their gifts to the church for distribution (though out of very different motives). The church was the collection point and the distribution point.
This idea of giving primarily to the church makes sense for quite a few reasons.
First, the church appoints certain people to be aware of need and responsive to it. In most churches this is the job of deacon who are called and equipped to be both proactive and responsive when it comes to need.
Second, the leaders of the church can identify the most important needs. The elders and deacons work together to identify and determine how to meet whatever needs arise.
Third, a lot can be done with more giving to fewer causes. There is nothing inherently wrong with you giving a bit of money to this cause while I give a little bit of money to that cause, but what can have a greater impact is for both of us to give to the same cause through the local church. This then lets us join together in prayer and other forms of support as a community.
Fourth, the New Testament makes it clear that the church is to set aside certain men to the work of the ministry and some of these are to be set aside to vocational ministry. Most Christians take this to mean that they are to be paid for their work. By making the church your primary means of giving, you are supporting your pastors in the ministry. And, of course, you are also supporting all the ministry of that church, from paying salaries to paying for a building and Bibles and everything else that is needed to keep a church going. If you are at a church week-by-week but giving your money to another cause, you are not supporting and sustaining your own church.
It is worth nothing that if you do not trust your church to use your money wisely, you may want to look for a new church! I would hope you can find a church where you can give generously, trusting that the leaders will use your money wisely. This is not to say that you need to do all of your giving to the local church, but certainly you ought to support it generously.
And this leads us to our final question and very possibly the one you most want an answer to.
How Much Do I Give?
It is worth nothing that when people ask this question what they typically want to know is this: Do I still need to tithe? People don’t tend to ask this when they want to give more than the 10 percent. So let’s answer it: How much do I give?
First, you are to give in accordance to what you have been given. In 1 Corinthians 16:2 Paul writes that the church is to take up a weekly collection and that each person is to give “as he may prosper.” In other words, he is acknowledging that each person will give a different amount. Those with more money were expected to give more than those who had less money.
Something to note: God does not tell us to give what we do not have and he does not tell us to give beyond our means. To give more than you have, to put yourself in debt or to be unable to pay your bills, that is not what God wants from you. Some of you come from Christian traditions where you are expected to “plant a seed,” where you are to give money you don’t have, so that the Lord can prosper you. Getting into debt to get out of debt is unbiblical, impractical and unwise. You need to be generous, but wise.
So there is the first principle of how to give: At minimum, you are to give according to what has been given to you.
Second, and this is closely related, you are to give enough that it is sacrificial. If you are giving an amount that really doesn’t even impact you—you make $10,000 a year and are giving $100 or you make $50,000 and are giving $250 or you are making $50,000,000 and are giving $20,000—your giving is not truly sacrificial. Giving is meant to be felt. If you aren’t feeling your giving, if you aren’t having to put other plans on hold because of your giving, you are probably not giving enough. There is a special kind of thrill that comes at the end of a year when you look at what you have given that year and see sacrifice. You can see that you could have had a new computer or a new kitchen or a new car, yet you’ve chosen to serve and honor the Lord. That is God-honoring sacrifice. God loves that. God blesses that. And there is the second principle: At minimum, give enough that it makes a difference to your financial position.
So what do we do with the tithe? Does God tell us today that we need to continue giving 10%? Well, that isn’t ever expressed clearly in the New Testament. The tithe is never reaffirmed and it is never canceled. But what is clear is that all of the New Testament laws were not lowered but heightened after Christ. The Old Testament warned against adultery; Jesus warned against a lustful glance. The Old Testament warned against murder; Jesus warned against even a hate-filled thought. Those Old Testament laws were a starting point to a much greater kind of obedience. Out of obedience to Christ and because of what Christ has done, the stakes have all been raised.
This makes it sound to me like that 10% is a mere starting point. Because there is not a clear command we need to use wisdom and we need to heed conscience, but I can’t imagine any way that Christ would have lowered the bar. In an age of law, 10% was simple obedience. In this age of grace, priceless grace, how could we say, “I now have freedom in Christ to give nothing,” or “I have freedom in Christ to give what’s left at the end of the month or what’s left in my pocket at the end of the week.” So I would encourage you to think of 10% as a kind of baseline and go from there.
So how do you give? Give willingly and cheerfully, give primarily to your local church, and give enough that you feel it. Do all that, take it before the Lord, and you will be a blessing to others.